A gel assay is introduced to measure DNA polymerase insertion kinetics at single sites along a DNA template strand. The assay is used to analyze the kinetics of inserting deoxynucleotides opposite a synthetic abasic (apurinic/apyrimidinic) lesions using Drosophila DNA polymerase alpha. The location of the abasic lesion next to different nearest-neighbor bases allows the effects of base stacking on the specificity of insertion to be evaluated. The specificity of nucleotide insertion, Vmax/Km, is 6-11 times greater for A over G and about 20-50 times greater for A over C and T. The insertion specificity at the abasic lesion appears to depend more on differences in Vmax than Km. Apparent Michaelis constants for inserting A and G deoxynucleotides are similar to within about a factor of 2. The insertion of A or G occurs most efficiently at the abasic lesion when T is the 5'-nearest neighbor on the primer strand and least efficiently when G is the 5'-nearest neighbor. The presence of different base stacking partners adjacent to the site of insertion has up to a 4-fold effect on specificity.